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Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's An Unreasonable Man insightfully and objectively chronicles the life of Ralph Nader and his interactions with society. It is filled with fascinating, carefully chosen, artfully constructed sequences which replay beautiful and dark moments of the past 60 plus years and puts them into context. Many of Nader's most ardent critics and supporters are interviewed in this balanced and educational documentary which focuses on facts and mixes them with speculation and opinion. I was riveted to the preview screening I saw on a large TV. Its so fast-paced, information packed, emotional, exciting, engaging, enRaging, and occasionally hilarious that when seeing it in a movie theater you should buckle your seatbelts! Keep your cell phones turned off and your mind open when watching this critically important film. It reminds me of 2 of my favorite Akira Kurosawa films, High and Low and Ikiru in the ways it makes me think about the pursuit of justice, equality, hard work, investigation, society, corporate ruthlessness, governmental bureaucracy, and the power of an individual to make a difference (for good or ill). An Unreasonable Man also reminds me of these 2 Kurosawa masterpieces because of its attention to detail, mastery of the subject, and mastery of the documentary format. It gives you powerfully organized information in chronological order and copious amounts of vintage footage which has been fascinatingly and cleverly edited and lets you make up your mind about this powerful, fascinating, multi-faceted, and controversial subject, Ralph Nader.
A paradox: here is one of the most significant and controversial men of
recent American history, and yet the media rarely mention him. Once a
hero, he has become a pariah. This new documentary is a good record of
the achievement and the controversy. While it's friendly to the man, it
also lets some of his most vitriolic political opponents (Gitlin,
Alterman) speak out loud and clear. It's hard to leave the theater
without entering into a debate over the final issue the film raises:
Was Nader right or wrong to run as a third party candidate against
George W. Bush? Did his campaign really cause Al Gore to lose? Is Nader
responsible for the Iraq war? The huge deficit? The post-Katrina
debacle? The film takes us back to Nader's origins: he was one of four
siblings born into a Lebanese Christian immigrant family in Winstead,
Connecticut, whose town meetings he came to consider an example of true
direct democracy. His mother was a political activist and his father a
restaurant owner who encouraged, if not required, political debate with
customers and at home at the dinner table. "What did you learn at
school today"? his father would ask young Ralph: "Did you learn to
think, or did you learn to believe?" Clearly the man, his brother, and
his two sisters, learned leadership from these origins. Each became
outstanding in their own field. Nader went to Princeton and Harvard
Law, then after a brief stint in the Army and time as a lawyer and
teacher of government, he went to Washington, and the rest is history.
What is it about Ralph Nader? Surely there is no one like him in public life. The crusader, the Knight in Shining Armor. One thinks of the lean face, the uniform of dark suit and plain tie, the calm, piercing, often ironic voice. One thinks of the man's dedication, his frugality. He has never married, a conscious choice: work comes first; there's no room for family. It's been written in Current Biography that before leaving his six-month stint in the Army in 1959 Nader acquired four dozen cheap, sturdy military socks from the PX that by the mid-Eighties he still hadn't worn out. Thoreau would have liked that. The man hears a different drummer indeed. In his glory days of major accomplishments as a consumer advocate -- a legacy so pervasive we're barely aware of it, though it has saved many lives -- Nader worked stolidly through the system right at the time -- the Sixties -- when the Counterculture was at its peak The Crusader, the Idealist, Nader is a stubborn man whose stands have won battles and infuriated many. His rigidity, his nerdiness: rising to prominence in the Sixties and Seventies, he never adopted the looser, more florid style of the time but always kept to the monastic suit and tie and short hair.
Spurred by a good friend's becoming handicapped after a car accident, Nader first came to national and international prominence by fighting Detroit for safer cars, the Chevrolet Corvair being a famous target. This was to be an epic battle in which the auto manufacturers tried to dig up dirt against him and bait him with prostitutes; he fought back with lawsuits and won. Nader has tackled government agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Federal Aviation Administration. In his battles to keep the air and water clean, provide safe food and decent nursing homes, protect forests and many other things, Nader has founded literally dozens of non-profit organizations. The list is so long the film can't quite keep up; it's best on the early period of advocacy for auto safety. "Nader's Raiders" -- the popular name for the hundreds of young activists who came to Washington to work with Nader in suited, hard-working teams -- provide some of the many talking heads who reminisce, besides the angry opponents. (Largely missing: corporate critics.) Jimmy Carter's presidency was a turning point. Nader felt betrayed by Carter, who seemed so friendly at first, and by some of his former associates who went to work in government agencies. Nader will not compromise. People in government have to. For Nader, that was unacceptable.
Some other points: Nader is a "consumer advocate," but that doesn't mean he's pro-consumption (remember the socks). Perhaps Nader's attitude toward the democrats goes back to his issues with Carter. It's not difficult to point out the many ways that Clinton as president was pro-business, anti-welfare; that he did not keep the promise of a national health service. With a different façade, Nader points out, Clinton continued many of the pro-corporate, neo-liberal policies of Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
Nader's defies the two-party system. Nader holds, as the film shows, that any independent candidate who knuckles under when the final push to election time begins and throws in his support to the democratic candidate is telling the Republicans and Democrats that they can do whatever they want. It's essential to have a third party that's a real threat. And the reason why this is so is that there is not a big difference between the two parties. Still: George W. Bush no worse than Al Gore? One critic says Nader is a Leninist: he implicitly wants things to get worse to force a change. Not quite true -- he's just fed up with the principle of the "least worst" -- but few of us who live in these United States can be so uncompromising, so maddeningly self-righteous and rigid -- and often so surprisingly right despite everyone else saying otherwise. In short, few of us are like Ralph Nader. If those who voted for him in 2000 had foreseen the disaster that is the current administration have done so? But would the world not be measurably worse without him? That's what this fascinating film challenges us to consider. Don't we need more, not fewer, such people?
This documentary is a chronicle of Ralph Nader's life and times, with
an above-average dose of commentators. They are many: Nader's
associates and many journalists, and others ranging from Phil Donahue
to Pat Buchanan, but the latter is there for additional perspective on
Nader, not debating points. Indeed, while the commentators support the
documentary narrative on Nader's background, activities (including
Nader's Raiders), and accomplishments, the biggest debate is on whether
Nader did the right thing in not abandoning his independent
Presidential bid in 2000 and perhaps costing Al Gore the election.
Some material on Nader's background is included, from his birth in Winsted, Ct. His parents were Lebanese immigrants. His mother was a political activist, and his father ran a restaurant and a bakery, helping shape Nader's lifelong affection for the marketplace and the consumer, as well as political discourse, for the restaurant was a haven for political discussion. The town-meeting-type government, in which Nader's family participated, with citizens voting on laws, was seen by Nader as pure democracy at work. Nader was bright and went to Harvard Law School, and he had a friend become paraplegic because of an auto accident.
Nader has championed many consumer issues. Auto safety, Nader's first claim to fame, is focused on most early and prominently and is a recurring theme, perhaps most appropriately. He took on GM, Ford, and Chrysler on seat belts to pollution control to steering mechanisms, and this is covered well, along with their twisted efforts to discredit him (even by extremely sleazy methods invading his privacy).
As for Nader's candidacy for President in 2000, the commentators debate extensively and, at some moments, venomously. He arguably cost Gore the election versus a reactionary President, and was his staying in until the end justified? But Nader ran because of what he believed in, thinking Democrats had become too much like Republicans. As the documentary covers at length, this had been a theme of Nader's political existence since the time of Nixon and Ford. Jimmy Carter turned out to be undependable in Nader's eyes, but the big problem really arose with the election of Reagan, the force of whose personality made people forget the difference between right and wrong, including on consumer issues. Regulations with their roots in Nader were opposed and sometimes successfully thrown out. Nader saw a lack of sympathy and agreement with his concerns continue through Democratic President Bill Clinton, whose Vice President was Gore. All in all, Nader's stubbornness in 2000 can be attributed to long-time frustration, not just recent events. Hence, the title of the movie, based on George Bernard Shaw's quote.
Nader's contribution on environmental (clean water and air) and safety matters outside of autos could have been discussed a little more. Another possible item for inclusion might have been some specifics on some laws and regulations, enacted and recommended; then, it might have been interesting to hear debate on whether he was right or was going too far, etc. However, this documentary ran more than two hours as is, and it is very well done; it will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone interested in the subject matter.
For many people Ralph Nader's entry into partisan politics has given
them their first view of this man. The film gives a much richer view
reaching back to his family and college days, and shows his quest for
rights of the individual member of the public and for consumer advocacy
in general have been a lifelong mission. Former coworkers and
colleagues - many Nader's Raiders - are featured along with
commentators who have followed him over the years.
The filmmakers are sympathetic to all aspects of Ralph, but (in the early cut I saw at Sundance '06) advocates for the original Ralph, champion of Everyman, the guy whom I thank daily as I reach for my mandated seat belt.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this film at a pre-screening in West LA and absolutely loved it. I have researched Nader extensively and there is a plethora of information and accomplishments out there in regards to his life. This movie managed to pack in plenty, though there is never enough to show what Ralph Nader has really meant to the American people. The film was important in that it showed both Nader's critics and followers, along with his betrayers and friends. It was very interesting to learn about his childhood a little since it was the only personal thing I have ever heard about him. Nader simply appears to have had no social life other than that of social reform, which is most likely how he managed to change the country so drastically. The film carries you through the hero he was once portrayed as, to the embarrassment he became and makes you wonder what he really did to deserve the smearing he obtained. Hopefully after watching this movie, he will not be viewed so much as a spoiler. Regardless, even he said, he does not care about his "legacy", he really just cares about the people's interests. We are very lucky to have someone so dedicated to us!
I'm going to keep this very short.
The first time I heard of Ralph Nader was through a friend, eight years a go. Eight years a go when Gore was running against Bush. My friend told me to find information on Ralph Nader, he told me that Nader was something different and something special.
I am not an American, so I had very little interest in American politics those days. Regardless I decided to check out this "Nader creature". Well my friend was right. Nader was something different. I felt there was something odd, weird about him. Nader had this monotonous voice and he didn't give these easy to digest political speeches. He didn't promise "change" or talk about "no child left behind" acts. In fact Nader talked about facts.
It was then that it dawned me. The reason why I found Naders message to be so weird, was because he was telling the truth! In a messed up, corporate controlled world, what are the odds that the consumer activist actually knows what is going on? Nader is a consumer activist and people all around the world owe Ralph Nader a great deal. Look at what you wear, what you eat, what you drive, where you work, the computer you own and tell me that corporations don't have power over you. Don't tell me that corporations aren't interested in politics. Corporations invest in political personalities.
Nader is a man who has fought for the consumer all his life, and that's what we are in the west. We are consumers. So when Ralph Nader speaks, we should listen instead of throwing cakes at him.
If any single individual can be said to have determined the outcome of
an election, it would have to be Ralph Nader. And if any one person can
be credited with saving thousands of lives through the actions he's
performed and the stands he's taken, well that would be Ralph Nader
After decades as the world's premiere consumer activist and all-around corporate gadfly, Nader should, in the sunset of his life, be basking in the glow of unalloyed adulation, a shiny symbol of hope and courage for the common man in this country. Instead, he finds himself a figure more reviled than revered by those who should love him most.
The documentary "An Unreasonable Man" attempts to explore the reason for this mystifying love/hate dichotomy. Filmmakers Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan trace the path of Nader's life beginning with his childhood in Connecticut, where he was raised by his socially-conscious parents to champion fairness and the cause of the little guy, to his eventual career as the populist activist par excellence, taking on corporate behemoths in the name of consumer safety. The movie chronicles the run-ins with GM that turned Nader into not only a household name but clearly "one of the most admired men in America." We see him inspiring a band of college students - who came to be known as "Nader's Raders" - who successfully took on any number of corporate giants throughout the 1960's and 1970's, resulting in many of the consumer protection laws we take so much for granted today. He was clearly a pioneer in his field, and the movie is an inspiring tribute to the selflessness, determination and courage that helped this one man make such a difference in the world (the movie reminds us that before Nader even seatbelts were not standard items in automobiles).
It's with the coming of the Reagan Revolution in the 1980's that Nader began to become severely disillusioned, as he watched the new conservative administration, hostile to the very principle of governmental protectionism, dismantle many of the programs Nader had dedicated his life to setting up. But his disillusionment did not extend merely to Republicans. For it was at this point that Nader began to claim that there wasn't a "dime's worth of difference" between the Republicans and Democrats, a realization that compelled him to finally run in 2000 as a Presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket. The rest, of course, is history, with many Democrats, some formerly close friends of Nader, choosing to blame their fallen idol for Gore's squeaker loss in Florida (and, consequently, the nation) on that fateful election night.
Although "An Unreasonable Man" presents Nader in a generally flattering light, it does not shy away from the very genuine anger Nader's actions have aroused in many of his former followers. Many blame him for ensuring Bush's victory and, thus by extension, for eight years of what they would describe as appalling Republican leadership. Others take a more philosophical view, worrying more about how all this might taint the very impressive legacy Nader built up over many decades of tireless social activism. In true maverick style, Nader pooh-poohs this concern, claiming that fighting for people is what he truly cares about, not how he will be viewed by future generations. The movie provides many opportunities for Nader's faithful supporters to have their say, as well, so we get a fascinating debate about whether ideological purity or steely-eyed pragmatism should be the key factor in determining one's vote in a presidential election. One of the most interestingly ironic moments in the film comes when we see Michael Moore, who is usually the one doing the sandbagging in his own films, being sandbagged himself as he is shown flip-flopping on his support for Nader between the 2000 election where he spoke at Nader rallies and the 2004 election where he pleads with Nader not to run.
Even people who are still embittered by Nader's role in the 2000 election may find themselves softening in their attitude towards him a bit after watching this film. The movie certainly reminds us of the great debt of gratitude we owe him as a nation, and, even when he is at his most obstinate in the political realm, we sense that he is being that way for ideologically honest reasons, not out of ego or malice. It's awfully hard not to find oneself cheering him on as he attempts to force his way into the audience for one of the 2000 presidential debates, after he and all the other independent candidates had been officially banned from the premises.
"An Unreasonable Man" provides a generous helping of archival footage to go along with the passionate interviews on both sides of the Nader spectrum (the movie does not, however, provide any real conservative voices, except for Patrick Buchanan, who, on many issues is actually more aligned with Nader's positions than opposed to them).
Love him or loathe him, this is a fantastically interesting and informative documentary about one of the most influential figures of the last hundred years.
This film explores this fundamental question about democracy; do you
vote with your conscious and the future in mind (big picture), or do
you vote for the change right now because things are so messed up? My
view, and I think the view of the film, is if we vote to change the
right now we will only continue the flawed system and it's
preconditions that will ensure we never really solve the major
problems....just temporarily fix them.
What the story of Ralph Nader gives us is an example of how you can fight the system and win. How when you act on what you believe in and look at the world without discrimination you can affect great positive change.
Everyone told Ralph he couldn't do this, he couldn't do that. Ralph looked them right in the eye and said F-off I'm doing it because it's the right thing do. And then he would either win the argument or have his predictions proved true.
This is the most inspirational film I have watched thus far in my life. If you like justice and fairness, try An Unreasonable Man. You will feel sooooo empowered after watching it.
**This comment has been made safer by Ralph Nader**
Watching this, I realized that I hadn't come to a hard conclusion on
the "Nader effect on the election" debate. This movie presented that
aspect of Nader's career in a comprehensive and balanced way. Although
I tended to feel that Gore should have won the 2000 election by a
landslide, and that it never should have come down to vote counting in
one state, this movie really had me wavering until it became obvious
that trying to blame Nader for Gore's loss (and arguably, ours) is like
blaming the umpire in baseball if your team loses-- if it comes down to
that, then you just haven't done your job.
So, hat's off to Ralph-- there just aren't enough people like him.
Early in this film, Phil Donahue says "there's a Shakespearan feature
to all of this", and he is right on the money. This brilliant film from
the former producer of Everybody Loves Raymond examines the life of
Ralph Nader, hearing from his favorite admirers...and his admirers who
turned into his harshest critics(Eric Alterman: "I think the man needs
to live in a different country. He's done enough damage to this one,
let him damage someone else's for a while").
Nader had a massive impact on our lives, from seat belts to the Freedom of Information Act to product labeling to OSHA, no one in America has been left untouched by Nader's legacy. With amazing archival footage and on camera interviews, this film portrays how a once hero of the left, who appeared on the cover of Newsweek wearing a suit of armor, became the Democrats favorite bunching bag for costing Al Gore the election.
The filmmakers do not pull any punches, as they examine the line between idealism and pragmatism and how far one should allow their political party to get worse before taking action. They also examine how one man could make a remarkable difference in the world.
Nader was undoubtedly the most important private citizen of the 20th century. As the 21st century progresses along, the debate will be, Ralph Nader: Spoiler or Hero?
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